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Recollections of a saint

Vasyl Ovsienko, Kyiv
M. Gorbal, One of sixty. Memoirs on the background of the jubilee year, Kyiv, ArtEk, 2001, 400 pages, photos.

(Горбаль М. А. Один із шістдесяти. Спогади на тлі ювілейного року.. — К.: АртЕк, 2001. — 400 с. : фот.)

On 12 September 2001 in the Kyiv teachers’ club the representation of a book was held. The book is written by Mykola Gorbal, a well-known human rights protection activist, a member of the Ukrainian Helsinki group, a deputy of the 2 ndconvocation of the Ukrainian Parliament. He reached his 61 styear on 10 September. The style of the book is very original; Mykhaylina Kotsiubinska defined it as intermediate: memoirs plus the diary of 2000. The latter circumstance defined the title. This from enables the author to think broadly and creates the feeling of the truth of a moment, since the total truth of each is composed from the truths of separate moments. This book will fill a niche in the annals of our life.

Evhen Sverstiuk, who presided at this crowded party, began his characteristic of the book as follows: this is the book by two Gorbals: Mykola, who in his dream managed to cross the Red Sea on dry land, and his brother Bogdan, an artist-primitive, who is now deceased. The book is opulently illustrated by Bogdan’s pictures.

‘People called him "God’s fool"’, told E. Sverstiuk, ‘since he never paid attention to the surface, but saw what was profoundly hidden. He was very reticent and self-contained. The both brothers were born of Anrdiy Gorbal, a rural member of intelligentsia from the village of Volovets of the Lemkivskiy district (it is better that the well-trained town variety). Their mother was a peasant woman, Tekla by name. The both brothers never betrayed their parents’ traditions and faith, having passed through the hell of the 20 thcentury’.

‘Characterizing this book’, said Sverstiuk, ‘I would say that it is very important. Everyone, who will read it or look it through, will never forget it. Two determining features of the book are as follows: 1) veracity – everything the author writes about is true; 2) the author permanently thinks of the most important. Nowadays the second feature is gift, which must be praised. The book can be related to memoirs of a peculiar kind: the attempt to write the diary of one year of life on the background of the past. This is a peculiar palimpsest: the author writes what he feels now on the background of his previous texts’.

Really, in this book the reader will find lively impressions of the most important events of 2000: the ‘parliamentary revolution’ of 1 February, Disappearance of Georgiy Gongadze, ‘cassette scandal’ of 28 November. And in between the reader will find horrible pictures of physical and psychological torture, which the author witnessed during 16 years of captivities. The figures imprinted in the author’s heart: Ivan Svitlychny, Mykola Kots, Ivan Sokulskiy, Boris Antonenko-Davydovich, Vasyl Stus, Geliy Snegiriov -- stand up on the pages, and what is written about them is pure truth. The author, like righteous martyrs of the past, feels himself obliged to tell the merciless truth about his contemporaries: there must be people in this sinful world, who must be absolutely unbiased. Many people nod encouragingly while observing such a position, but themselves never risk to take it. Nonetheless, the truthful word does not loose and does not gain importance. Some people must tell the truthful word, independent of the fact whether it is heard or not. Reading such lines one recollects Taras Shevchenko’s variety of the 11 thPsalm.

E. Sverstiuk further said that an astonishing man stands up between the lines of this book. He was three times repressed, survived the hell of the political and criminal concentration camps, and returned from there enlightened. Returned as a person full of love and trust to the world and the desire to communicate with this world. He is not one of those, who were born to hide in the trenches. On the contrary, he was ready to find his first investigating officer Bidyovka, who, for a not printed and even not finished verse ‘Duma’ (‘Meditation’), had given him a prison term, and to propose to write a joint book.

-- I cannot write, Pan Gorbal.

-- Do not be sly, Pan Bidyovka, I still keep the protocol of the search written by you, and written brilliantly. So write in the style you master, and I will write what I felt within my terrified soul, when I stayed in the KGB cellars. And then we shall unite these two parts into one book. We have no right to look at each other as enemies now. Ukraine needs consolidation of the nation, and, if the book is sincere, it will imply, who was interested in the state, when the people is divided and brother kills brother’ (p. 131).

Gorbal was able to fall into conversation with the militia captain, to whom he was taken on the Day of human rights in 1978 and they parted as friends. Next time the captain did not search Malva Landa, who brought to Gorbal some texts of political prisoners. Gorbal is ready to talk as in a friendly manner with Kravchenko, a former precinct inspector, with Kuchma, a former engineer of a rocket plant, with Potebenko, a former juridical consultant of the plant ‘Leninska kuznia’. But now they reached such a top that they do not remember how to talk. The book also contains moral assessments of Leonid Kravchuk, Viktor Medvedchuk, the ‘defender’ of Vasyl Stus and Yuriy Litvin, Sukis, Moroz and others. It is interesting what will be their reaction?

‘There are many people, who bail their moral forces from what they once had done. It is very important for a captive to be really guilty of something. If one was tailed, they had to have reasons. If Western radio stations told about one, they had to have what to say. But if someone was imprisoned for nothing, like Mykola, he had to have the support of some remote sacred things of the past. Very few of us had such sacred things in mind,’ said Sverstiuk.

Not in vain Gorbal’s mother said: ‘Your father was a saint’. His father not only prayed, but lived according to the laws of human coexistence stipulated in the Holy Scriptures and taught his children to live so. That is why the public was not surprised when Father Bogdan Ternopilskiy on behalf of Patriarch of Kyiv and all Ukraine-Russia Filaret handed Greek-Catholic Gorbal the order if Saint archistratig Mikhail. Gorbal was awarded as a Christian.

‘Reading this book I imagined how ashamed are the barristers, who tried such people as Gorbal, the barristers, who forgot ‘Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us’’, Stepan Zenyo, a member of ‘Lemkivshchina’ community said, ‘a lemkoreader would be especially affected; we will walk anew the way of deportation of this part of that Ukrainian people that lost their motherland’.

482 thousand of lemkoswere deported to the USSR, and remaining 140 thousand on the Easter (28 April) of 194 were dispersed in Poland. All in all, 622575 lemkoswere deported, 1717 of them were exterminated. Mykola recalled as his family was sent to exile, and his father raised him in his arms in the train carriage: ‘Look, sonny! This is the Dnieper! Dnieper!’

Now the lemkosfrom the ‘Lemkivshchina’ community came to greet their fellow-countryman, they sang the songs written by Gorbal in the local dialect. Gorbal was not born a politician – the KGB made him one. He was a musician and a teacher of music, but during the second imprisonment he was working in a quarry, his fingers were damaged, and now he is unable to play. His songs were sung by the sisters Galia and Lesia Telniuk (’Sisters’ tears will not fall upon the ground’), Ganna Solonychna (‘Cemetaries’), student of Vienna conservatoire Olena Nechay; fragments from the book were recited by Kyrylo Bulkin and Galina Stefanova.

‘People do not read books now’, said the author in completion. ‘Pan Osyp Zinkevich, the director of the publishing house ‘Smoloskyp’ said: „It is bad that a name index was not made in the book“. I say: „It is bad that the contents were made in the book. Because one look through the contents until he come across his name, reads about himself and drops the book“. That is why we shall never include either contents or name index. We organize presentations to get people interested... And the fact that I was imprisoned is God’s blessing. Without it I will newer got acquainted with Svitlychny, Stus, Sverstiuk – now these figures are symbolize Ukraine...’

14 September 2001
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